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Helping you find a career in the Heritage industry

The heritage sector in the UK looks after historic sites across the country, from museums to listed buildings and from archives to archaeology. Sites in the UK can include well-worn tourist attractions such as Stonehenge, castles from Edinburgh to Warwick, and world-famous museums such as the British Museum or the Imperial War Museum North. Alongside these more famous locations, there are thousands of less well-known sites dotted across the country.

There are a number of organisations involved in heritage work in the UK – the largest of these include English Heritage, The Heritage Alliance, The National Trust, Historic Scotland and World Heritage UK. Other employers in the heritage sector will include larger and smaller museums and galleries.

Working in heritage can involve looking after (curating) museum collections, restoring monuments (conservation) or educating the public about the history of a particular site or collection. There are also management positions available in finance, fundraising, marketing and communications.

It can be challenging to find a graduate role in the heritage sector as it is oversubscribed with applicants. Salaries tend to be quite low relative to other graduate careers. Roles are often offered as fixed-term contracts (especially at junior levels), and it can be difficult to find a permanent position until you have developed a few years of experience. You may need to be prepared to move to different locations around the country to find positions.


Skills & interests required for a career in Heritage
A genuine passion for history or conservation is essential for a career in heritage. Often you will need to demonstrate this with an appropriate undergraduate degree (e.g. BA history / archaeology, or conservation studies), though you will also need to show your interests beyond academic study, too.

You will need to be able to read and interpret technical literature, often for the purpose of explaining sites or collections to members of the public. You may also require hands-on technical skills for preservation purposes.

While you might not need a specific qualification for a management-oriented role, competition for roles is sufficiently high that you may find it an advantage to hold a degree in a related subject.
Graduate schemes & other typical career progression routes in Heritage
Graduates will typically be hired on short fixed-term contracts in public-facing positions at a given site – structured graduate schemes or formal training do exist, particularly in curatorial or conservation-focused positions, but are rare.

Once you have secured a position at a particular site or organisation, progressing your career upwards can be challenging as budgeting issues can mean that you may have to remain at the same role level until someone more senior than you moves on, opening up their position. This can mean that moving to a more senior position can involve finding a new employer. This can be the case both in curatorial roles as in management positions.

As you become more senior, your role will usually involve a greater amount of people management and project leadership. In a senior curator position you may also be given the opportunity to present and discuss collections, sites or artefacts to important audiences – this can even involve media appearances in the press or on documentary / news programming!
Tips for getting into the field
Voluntary work to build your experience can be essential to securing a graduate job in heritage. You can find volunteering opportunities through a number of channels, for example your university’s careers department may be contacted by local museums or sites with positions. Alternatively, many sites (larger or smaller) will have details for volunteering programmes on their websites. Beyond voluntary work, you may wish to consider part-time paid positions in supporting functions – for instance catering at a museum’s cafeteria.

Take some time to think about aspects of your academic background that will apply to the sort of heritage roles you are interested in applying for. Knowing how to apply your academic knowledge in a related field to working in the sector will give you an advantage when applying for roles. Arrange a meeting with your university’s careers department to discuss your interest in the heritage sector.
How much can graduates earn in Heritage?
Salaries are lower in heritage than in many other sectors. Assistant curators/conservators may start between £18,000 and £25,000 per annum. As you gain experience in a curator or conservator role, your salary may increase to £25,000 to £35,000. Less specialised positions – for instance an education officer at a museum – will earn at the lower end of this scale, while a number of positions might be paid on an hourly rate between £10-12/hr.
What qualifications do I need for a career in Heritage?
Most positions in the heritage sector will require at least an undergraduate degree in a related subject (history, archaeology, classics, geography, archive/museum studies), and many curator positions will ask that you also hold a postgraduate qualification (an MA or Ph.D).

Conservation roles may require you to have studied a degree in conservation. There are also opportunities for graduates who have studied science subjects in more technical aspects of conservation (e.g. chemistry) to transition into the industry.
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